T.I.C. transitions

Jew on the Waves of Fate

True Community Organizing

Village of Hura

After a particular session of my Program Evaluation class I was so moved that I wrote a long email to my family about what I experienced.  You might be wondering what it is about program evaluation that could have had such an impact.  Well here’s the deal: my program evaluation teacher evaluates various social service projects in Israel, which is already quite impressive to me, and therefore travels to Israel regularly.  At one point she met a woman named Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, a Bedouin woman.  In that class session we got to Skype with her and the word impressive does not begin to describe this amazing woman.

To begin she was the fifth daughter in her family.  In a culture where males are highly valued this was not such a positive thing therefore she was named Amal, which means ‘hope’ in the hope that her parents would have sons.  Following Amal the next five children were sons!  But Amal proved that there was more to her than being a harbinger of male children.  She avoided the traditional route of a Bedouin girl, which would have meant spending most of her time in the kitchen with her mother, and began shepherding at age 5.  In this capacity she would wander alone around the Negev desert with her flock.  She said that she developed a language with them and that this was her first foray into community organizing.  She also learned, through the support of her grandmother, to be loud in front of men even though her mother disapproved.

Eventually Amal got an undergraduate degree in social work in Israel and a graduate degree in community organizing in Canada.  She informed our class that in most cases, like that of most students at our school, students learn to bring theories to their future experiences.  However Amal expressed how she had to bring her experiences to the theories she was learning in school and sometimes there was no theory for what she had experienced.

The program (see a full description at the end of this post) that this interview focused on was one that she had developed for single Bedouin women, whose husbands left them for one of the husband’s other wives.  But since these women were not legally divorced (something the women were unable to ask for because they risked losing custody of their children) the Israeli government would not provide them with public benefits.  These women needed support.  Amal also became aware of another issue.  The Bedouin children in this small village were provided hot meals in school by the Israeli government.  But the children did not like the hot lunches that were provided because it was not the food they were accustomed to.  Amal found a way to bring these needs together into an opportunity, she decided to set up a kitchen where these women could cook and run a catering business that provided meals for their children in school.

Originally when she told the Israeli Ministry of Education her plan they informed her that the kitchen would have be open at least two years to meet the requirements.  But Amal explained the situation to the Minister and he found a way to approve it.  Now Ministry buys meals from this kitchen for distribution to the schools in that village (Hura).  The children eat and enjoy the food and the women are independent and making money.

The kitchen now earns a profit and these women have decided to regularly share some of the proceeds, the most recent fund was for a scholarship for Bedouin girls to go to college.

At the beginning the local men vandalized the kitchen.  But Amal organized a meeting where the men were included, when they had not been originally.  She learned that this was all they really wanted, they wanted to be heard because they were struggling with joblessness as well.  Amal pointed out that you cannot do community work if certain members of the community are excluded.  Now these women employ local men who do jobs like delivering the meals.  Other Arab villages have become interested in replicating the program including Rahat, the largest recognized Bedouin village in Israel.

Amal spent 3 years navigating the bureaucracy of it all to accomplish this.  When they had to put the kitchen in an area that did not get electricity she called the appropriate ministry, met the minister, explained how it did not make sense that there was no electricity in an area where more jobs could be created and within a week they got the electricity installed.  Now various businesses thrive there including businesses that have sprung up to support the kitchen so now they do not need to go outside of Hura for many of their supplies.  It is very self-sustaining.

This woman travelled all around Israel to make this happen and though there were a lot of issues she was able to convince these various ministers and government officials to support this endeavor.  Hura has become a success story not only for Bedouin women but for Arab villages in Israel as well.

A lesson Amal shared with us was that if you do not find the answers you want, create them.

Please visit these sites for more information on Amal and her work:

Negev Institute For Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED)

Amal Elsana Alh’Jooj Bio at NISPED 

Sixty Years Sixty Voices: Amal Elsana Alh’Jooj 

The Single Mothers’ Catering Project (from NISPED website):

Eleven single mothers (widows, divorcees and women whose husbands have taken second and third wives and left them and their children without support) from the townships of Hura were trained as caterers during 2005-6, in preparation for the establishment of catering enterprises in their towns. These enterprises will provide hot meals for school children as part of the national “hot meal” plan in the primary school system. This project was made possible by the support of the UJA Federation of New York, The Royal Embassy of the Netherlands and the Levi Lassen Stichting. 

The Hura catering enterprise, which will provide approximately 3,500 daily meals contracted for by the Hura municipality, was renovated and equipped to meet the standards of the Ministry of Health. In addition to the lunch meals for school children, the women will also open up a restaurant that will serve the people working in the industrial area, where the catering enterprise is located. During its first three years of operation, this business will be run by a ‘public benefit company’, after which it will become a cooperative, owned by the women themselves.

3…2…1 ATONE!

The Day of Atonement is at hand!  Yikes, ominous phrase.  I prefer my father’s version, the Day of At-ONE-Ment.

The Honey Cake I made for Rosh Hashanah baking

Over time I have begun to feel that Yom Kippur is a day I must get ready for, a day that requires preparation beforehand.  It is always something I was aware of in Judaism but I have felt that need to prepare intensify over time.  This year however (and by year I mean 5772) the preparations have been difficult…as in non-existent.  Unfortunately my school and the High Holy Days do not mesh well (even though I now live in New York City AKA the other Jewish homeland).  I find that as Yom Kippur approaches my mind floods with the actions, inactions, thoughts and conversations that I have come to regret over the year.  Yet before I can open the valve to release them I remember the paper I have not started, the meeting that needs an agenda, the article that I have yet to finish reading or the inboxes (yes multiple) that continue to grow.  On certain Jewish holidays and on Shabbat (Sabbath) it is ideal to eschew all such stressful issues and allow yourself to breathe…but breathing is just too far down on my Google Tasks list.

Perhaps that is the purpose of Yom Kippur; the Day of AtOneMent is the day to release the valve.  As we daven (pray) in our starved and occasionally smelly stupor (I am sorry HaShem [God] but this is how it feels sometimes) perhaps our body and soul’s reaction to this state of being, which includes an excessive amount of standing for those with low to no blood sugar, is that release.  As we allow our bodies to do what they do (otherwise known as bodily functions) we release the regrets we have been holding in.  As our brains lose some of their cognitive force (as a result of starvation, have you picked up on that yet?) so go the grudges that we have been overanalyzing.  As our bodies sway struggling to determine whether they are following the rhythm of the prayers or simply losing their balance perhaps the aches and pains of the year settle.  Yom Kippur is a time to reboot.

Yamim Noraim | Days of Awe

This year I have found myself feeling especially spiritually vulnerable as I truck through the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe, which fill the time between eating apples and honey and salivating when you see dust).  Finding balance is always difficult but for the past couple of weeks it has been an especially elusive goal.  I choose to view these difficulties as a call to embrace the reason HaShem (or whomever you believe did so) granted us this day.

I suppose it may not be appropriate to make ALL of my apologies in this public setting.  However I would like to say that there is a great deal that I know I need to improve on in myself and as I have been on that journey some people are left neglected or hurt.  In the midst of this mildly ‘quippy’ post I would like to offer a sincere sentiment.  I have hurt others, some I know of and some I do not.  I have held on to grudges, which are in fact nasty things that produce nothing positive.  I have hidden and allowed myself to lose sight of what is important.  It is time to strive to keep my eyes open and my awareness sharp.

I hope that this year is what it needs to be for everyone and that we find our footing, achieve our dreams and add some new ones.

My American Marriage Roadmap

On June 23, 2011 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed what many are calling “historic” legislation that made New York the sixth state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriages (it is legal in Washington D.C. as well).  The news has touted the various reasons why New York’s decision is so important including the size of the state, the largest to legalize same-sex marriage to date.

This important step that has been taken in the state that I not only live in but is the state of my birth led me to wonder the status of same-sex unions in the other places that I have lived.

NY Map by Kevin Middleton from Toon Maps

Doing this mildly thorough research I have realized how representative these four states are of the diverse opinions Americans have on this topic.

I was born in New York and we already know that come July 24 (or thereabouts) same-sex couples will be able to marry and receive the same rights and privileges associated with that union that heterosexual couples receive.

NEW YORK = MARRIAGE FOR ALL COUPLES

After New York I moved to Illinois.  Known for Lincoln, political corruption (the two are unrelated to my knowledge), an recently abolishing the death penalty, Illinois recently (June 2011) instituted and legalized same-sex civil unions.  These unions have the same privileges and benefits, to my knowledge, of a marriage however they are not officially titled as such.

ILLINOIS = CIVIL UNIONS FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES

From Illinois I made my way to Florida where I lived 11 hot and humid years along the Treasure Coast.  As of 2008 Article 1, Section 27 of the Florida Constitution states: “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

FLORIDA = CONSTITUTIONAL BAN ON ALL SAME-SEX UNIONS

My next 11 years were spent in the Centennial State AKA Colorado.  More specifically I lived in Boulder…an interesting city.  In 1975 City of Boulder clerk and recorder Clela Rorex issued the first same-sex marriage licenses in the country. Unfortunately with the issue all of a sudden raised Rorex and Boulder were quick to take fire.  The marriages were later invalidated.

As of 2008 the Colorado Constitution has stated in Article II Section 31: “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”  Allowing for the future possibility of civil unions for same-sex couples though recent legislation that attempted to institute these unions never passed.

COLORADO = CONSTITIONAL BAN ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

This is only a snapshot of some of the country, a country that is very disjointed in how it chooses to deal with what seems like a simple issue to many.  I recognize that the issue may not be so simple for all people. However I am a big fan of civil marriage, which I believe should be separate from religious and spiritual recognitions of personal unions and available to all consenting adults of any gender, race, ethnicity, religion and so on.  The religious and/or spiritual side of it, in my opinion, should be left to each couple’s personal preferences and practices.

Something to consider.

Dad Grad

This summer I have the great pleasure of interning at the Midtown Community Court. It is a fascinating project and first of its kind “problem-solving court” that deals mainly with the arraignment of violations and misdemeanors in Midtown Manhattan (catchment area includes roughly 14th St to 86th St from Lexington Ave to the Hudson River). There are many wonderful things I could say about this court and I am very tempted to go into exhaustive detail about its jurisdiction and organization…the kind of information that I get excited about and everyone else seems to glaze over for when I ramble on about it. So I will try to focus this post.

There is one program in particular that I would like to talk about: Dad’s United for Parenting or D-UP. This program works with non-custodial fathers many of whom have some interaction with the criminal justice system. I am still new and not involved in the program so I am lacking on many of the details but I know that they run group and individual counseling sessions with the fathers, have employment and financial training and assistance, an attorney that helps the fathers understand the maze that is the court system and more specifically the family court system and various other features. What I believe is the most important aspect is the support the program provides for these men and the encouragement toward building healthy relationships with themselves, their children, and their partners.

I had the honor of attending the D-UP graduation on Thursday, June 23 at John Jay College. It was amazing to witness. The camaraderie between the fathers was palpable and the bond between the fathers and the staff was not only apparent but also moving. Lives had been touched on both ends. The fathers had their children and other family members and friends present making this event feel like so much more than a formal affair. I felt like I was watching one very big family celebrate a significant milestone.

There are many groups that need support in our country. I believe any program that inspires and promotes healthy family building (while acknowledging that families can look any number of ways) is an important space for social workers, and anyone for that matter, to be involved in. There are fathers that strive to be a part of their children’s lives but struggle for various reasons. This includes attempting to maintain a job that can sustain child support while spending time with their children and supporting themselves. D-UP does a wonderful job of addressing this population of fathers.

To wrap this up I am including the D-UP pledge, as it conveys what this program works to achieve.

D-UP Pledge
I am here to:

I. Be more involved in the life of my children, both financially and emotionally

II. Find stable employment

III. Enhance my parenting skills

IV. Improve my self-awareness

V. Learn how to become an engaged father

VI. Respect my needs and the needs of my family

VII. Enhance my communication skills with my child and spouse/co-parent

VIII. Learn constructive ways to discipline my child

IX. Understand the major barriers to nurturing parenting

X. Understand my family roots and heritage

Boys and Men Healing

I attended a screening and panel discussion of “Boys and Men Healing,” a documentary about male survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  The event was held as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and organized by the Men’s Peer Education Program at Columbia University and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Crime Victims Treatment Center (CVTC).  It was co-sponsored by the Columbia University School of Social Work Men’s Caucus and MaleSurvivor.org.

Phew…credits done.  Now the meat.  What a film and what an event.  Overall striking in a number of ways especially in bringing to light the unique and profound experience of males who have been sexually abused and the needs they have that go largely unmet or unrecognized.  In addition, as a social work student I became aware of the pivotal role social workers can and do play in this area.  Social workers should feel empowered to know that a social worker founded the CVTC at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and social workers are very involved with MaleSurvivor.  But the need is still there.

The film followed three adult survivors.  It explored the history of their abuse, how it affected them and where they are now.  All three men are doing work to heal themselves and others.  At the beginning of the film was a poignant line from one of these three, Tony Rogers; “Childhood rape separated me from my spirit.”  This quote embodies the disempowering effect of such heinous acts.  A common theme for male victims is the fear and discomfort in seeking help and the emasculation that is associated with reaching out for assistance.  But Rogers put it best when he stated “I didn’t know asking for help would make me powerful.”  He went on to help form a group of male survivors who share their experiences and support each other.  The footage of the group was especially moving and was a hopeful sight.

Survivor David Lisak is currently a successful forensic psychologist.  Perhaps the most compelling moment of the film for me was watching Lisak visit a client in prison who was on death row.  This man was also a survivor of sexual abuse but clearly his life took a very different path than Dr. Lisak’s.  Watching them communicate and share through safety class and bars made me wish I could paint or draw to truly capture that image and feelings I had from observing it.  Both men had vicious acts perpetrated against them and it lead to their being on opposite sides of those bars, opposite sides of life, one man became a healer and advocate and the other a murderer and silenced even further.  Dr. Lisak made it clear though that it is a fine line that separates these two paths.

Near the end of the film Mark Crawford, one of the men featured in the film and a panelist at the discussion stated, “Men need to have hope, and when you have hope you will heal.”  Hope is key but those labeled victims often have trouble finding that hope and they should not be alone in trying to attain it.

Panel Discussion

Panelists

     

  • Mark Crawford – founding director of FixTheLaw.org and NJ State Director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and survivor.
  • Louise Kindley – Clinical Coordinator of the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Crime Victims Treatment Center
  • RJ Maccani – co-founder of Challenging Male Supremacy, partner organization of generationFIVE and survivor.
  • Ernesto Mujica, Ph.D. – supervisor of Psychotherapy at the William Alanson White Institute of New York.
  •  

Highlights

     

  • 1 in 6 men and 1 in 3 women are survivors of sexual abuse
  • Men can be and have been abused by women including their own mothers.  A common barrier faced by these victims is the taboo of blaming their mother.
  • Abuse is about power and it is an issue that affects PEOPLE, no matter the gender
  • When there is an imbalance of power there is the potential for abuse and this includes parents
  • It is a cultural myth that abusers are always male
  • Rape Crisis Centers are geared towards women – when a male victim goes to them they are often looked at questioningly or with hostility
    • Dr. Mujica worked with a man who went to a Rape Crisis Center after being raped and when he stated that he had been raped the counselor said that was impossible
    • When Tony Rogers from the film sought help from rape victims organizations they would immediately assume he was a perpetrator and he was referred to groups for perpetrators multiple times because of his gender
    • Louise Kindley: “There is no shame in being hurt, only in hurting people.”
    • Mark Crawford: “Listen!  Let them tell their story.”
      • Listening to people is so important and more often than not, whether we are aware of it or not, our discomfort with the issue of sexual abuse turns victims away from seeking help.
      • Mark Crawford: “Silence is the glue that keeps sexual violence firmly in place.”
  •  

Removing the Bars

On January 29, 2011 I had the pleasure to help facilitate Columbia University School of Social Work’s (CUSSW) first ever skills-based conference on criminal justice titled “Removing the Bars.”  The Criminal Justice Caucus at CUSSW, of which I am a member put together and sponsored this conference that despite some resistance and numerous logistical considerations proved to be a great success.  The conference was a full day of workshops, a panel of formerly incarcerated individuals and their family discussing their experiences, and a plenary session on the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” where The Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-NY presented.  Among my responsibilities I was able to recruit my professor, Markus Redding JD MSW to speak on the problem solving courts of New York City and how social workers are, can be, and should be involved the court system.

The conference brought in students from various schools, professionals in the fields of law, social work, and criminal justice as well as community members.  The diversity of attendance spoke to the need for these issues to be explored and part of the beauty of the conference was that new or uncovered issues were raised that can be addressed at future events.  At the end of the day I let out a giant sigh of relief and satisfaction.  It was a lot of work that proudly exemplified collaboration across caucuses at CUSSW and I believe the work was all worth it.  I look forward to helping bring the conference back in future years.  Check out the Criminal Justice Caucus blog to read more about it.

We also had really cool t-shirts!

Shema – שמע

We have a prayer (we have many prayers)

but this prayer, this quintessential standard

this “call to action” or “call to awareness”

this singular seemingly simple song

emphasizes singularity, defies simplicity

We say it loud or under our breath

Quick or drawn out

With our eyes open or our heads turned down

Communities have fractured over whether we should stand or sit

Why are we surprised when we are told to say it

only when we rise up and when we lie down

only when we come and when we go

This is a mantra that focuses us and should leave us awed

שמע ישראל יי אלהינו יי אחד

These words define our past and prepare us for the paths ahead

ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

-Ronin A. Davis

Displaced Detention Worker

As I have mentioned I have begun studying for my master’s degree in social work.  I will nonchalantly remind everyone that I am pursuing this degree at Columbia University.  Do pride and arrogance really have to look that much alike?  Since October 2007 I had been working at the Boulder County Juvenile Assessment Center.  Nice name yet somewhat inadequate description for the multi-faceted juvenile detention facility where I worked up until the end of July 2010.

Now I must state that the facility where I worked was very progressive and not nearly as punitive as most detention facilities.  That said it was still detention, a locked facility staffed ‘round the clock.  Juveniles wore detention scrubs and were transported in shackles and handcuffs (do not be shocked, when you are arrested you are put in handcuffs).

Now I am entering into a very therapeutic atmosphere.  Social work school talks a lot about collaboration, self-awareness, and openness.  All of this is very important however I have not seen a lot of discussion regarding assertiveness yet.  It has been all of three weeks so who am I to complain.  I have heard mention about difficult field placements toughening a student and growing a thicker skin but it tends to be discussed as more of a negative; a “this is what has to happen” sort of dynamic rather than elaborating on the benefit that can be gained by ensuring you maintain a balance between being smooth and being firm.  I am a very strong believer and supporter of the search for balance.

We are taught about boundaries though the topic usually comes up when prompted by nervous questions regarding how much personal information a social worker should reveal to a client or whether it is okay to hug a student and similar queries.

I think one reason that I have begun to contemplate this is because I am noticing the influence of my detention work.  While I have and continue to view myself as a non-confrontational individual who leans toward collaboration rather than authoritarian methods I do believe the latter has its place.

My first year field placement is at a middle school in the south Bronx.  I believe it is safe to say that the majority of schools in New York City retain a harsher atmosphere than Oslo Middle School in Vero Beach, FL.  I was ready to be shocked and taken aback and wildly nervous.  I believe I am all of those things but not nearly to the level that I thought.  I have been in the field all of two days so my views and understandings could and will change.

I do however notice that I do not gravitate toward the softer attitude or approach in the school.  When discussing what to do with a student who is disruptive during a group session my first thought is of the various consequences: send back to class, send to dean, inform parent, and deprive of certain privileges.  My supervisor’s response was to simply send them back to class and inform her if it continues and we would take it from there.  My fellow interns, the different past experiences of whom I greatly admire, seemed unsure of a course of action though this could have just been my perception.

When a student came to the office and sat down with no explanation I remembered our supervisor telling us that students could not just spend time in the office as a way of avoiding something else.  They needed an appointment, to be scheduled in a group or have a pass to set up an appointment.  I engaged the girl, asked what class she had, what she needed and why she was not on her way to class.  After her various vague answers I politely yet firmly told her she needed to go to class, that she could not hang out but to return if she needed to when she was not in class.  This impressed a fellow intern yet seemed simply appropriate to me.

There were numerous other smaller examples (supporting a dean for having a student leave the assembly for speaking after being warned that if he spoke he would have to leave).  I believe, especially with adolescents, that being open and available is just as important as being firm and steadfast.  Follow through is very important and if a consequence is associated with a particular behavior not applying that consequence sends the wrong message.

I do not believe that “punitive” is the way to go.  I believe in collaboration especially the collaboration between being firm and being open, between being conservative and liberal if you will allow me to make such a comparison.  If I am willing to follow through on a reward I better be willing to follow through on a consequence and the other way around.

P.S. I must also note for my former co-workers that for someone who does not like and seeks to avoid confrontation I had to hold myself back from stepping in when students were being rowdy, this is no longer a part of my job…unless their rowdiness happens during something I am running.  I also picked up a bent paperclip and threw it out…I cannot let contraband sit…even if I am in a place where it is not contraband.

Yellow Card! Green Card! Blue Card! White Card!

No, I am not talking about penalties in soccer especially since I had look up “yellow card” to be sure that there was such a thing as penalty cards in soccer.  I am talking about Yom Kippur.  One of the three Jewish holidays most non-Jews are aware of.  This is the day that most know as the “Day of Atonement” and my family prefers to refer to as the “Day of AtONEment.”  Creative right.

Transitions are very important to my people.  We spend the day on Fridays preparing for Shabbat, the Sabbath when we make a separation between all the stresses and weight of the week and a time to focus on yourself.  It is the original weekend.

Rosh Hashanah is the holiday that begins a very important transition for Jews.  We blow the shofar (ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashanah also known as Yom Teruah (Day of the Call or Blast or Clarion depending on the translation).  It begins the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe or AWEfull Days) when we try to repent for our mistakes, our missteps over the past year.  The Yamim Nora’im consist of 10 days that end with Yom Kippur.  After Yom Kippur we are supposed to be done focusing on our transgressions from the previous year.

I believe there is a beauty in this.  How many of us are guilty of dwelling obsessively over our various slip-ups?  It is not healthy to fixate on the negative however it must be dealt with at some point.  Therefore Judaism gives the opportunity to deal with our issues and then the chance to let go and move on.  I think this makes a lot of sense.

What do multicolored cards have to do with this?  Growing up in my father’s congregation in Florida we had a particular tradition.  Yellow, green, blue and white index cards were handed out to everyone.  We would then write one or more of our wrongdoings on these cards and each one represented the target of that wrongdoing.

Green = nature
Blue = yourself
Yellow = others
White = God

Here is my attempt at a poem to remember them:

Green is for what the earth has seen,
Blue is for you and Yellow your fellow,
And most difficult to cite
On white the sins against God we write.

Okay, I tried.

These cards would be collected on Rosh Hashanah and some would be read on Yom Kippur.   It was a cathartic way of physically letting go and moving on.  This is important.

With all that said let me apologize to those I have wronged over the past year.  We do what we can to be the best we can be but mistakes happen and people, our planet, our faith, and our ‘self’ can get hurt.  Sometime we are unaware of pain we may cause.  Again I apologize and hope that in the coming year I can grow and learn do my best to help bring about Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).

Zen Subway Riding

When I was younger I used to visit New York City every year with my family. It was part of our autumn tradition ever since we moved from New York State. On the way to Rhode Island for a thanksgiving/Davis family reunion we would stop and see my mother’s father and stepmother in Queens. Part of the tradition involved my father taking us into Manhattan to see the sites, his old haunts, and, I think, for the overall NYC experience.

A key part of that experience was riding the subways. This was insisted upon and my clearest memory of this was my father’s lessons in “Zen Subway Riding.” He would have me stand in a strong stance, often called a fighting stance. One leg in front of the other, knees slightly bent, the kind of stance I learned in Karate and Aikido classes. It was about balance. He would challenge me to stand for as much of the trip as I could without holding onto any of the poles or handles.

I am sure everyone’s parents had their own eccentricities that annoyed their children immensely and yet those children, as they grew up often look back on them fondly. This was not the case for this particular eccentricity. I feel as if I enjoyed the challenge even back then. I do not remember complaining much about it though my father may remember differently. I remember that as I tried to maintain my balance on the train car with my hand poised to grab the pole my father would tell me stories of his life in the city.

One story in particular that pertains to the skill he was teaching was how he taught himself “Zen Subway Riding”. But he added another component, he would ride between subway cars (DISCLAIMER-WARNING: Please do not attempt this. Adhere to all MTA guidelines when riding on the NY subway system). Needless to say I thought my father was…to put it in the most elegant terms I can, badass. Perhaps a little crazy but I would not want him any other way.

Why, among all the lessons my father has attempted to impart to me, does “Zen Subway Riding” stand out? I have found myself practicing it on the buses in Boulder and the airport tram at Denver International. I would still put my hand up occasionally, ready to grasp the bar if needed and sometimes cheat a bit, as I definitely did as a child, by saying I was not actually touching the pole when in fact I was leaning against it a bit with the palm of my hand.

I live in New York City now, riding on newer cars and some that look like the ones I rode in the 90s. I do not practice “Zen Subway Riding” each time I am on the subway but I think about it each time the train lurches to a start. While I try to fit in and read or check my phone while sitting, leaning against a door (you’re not supposed to do that either) or trying to look as nonchalant as possible as I awkwardly grasp a bar above my head I still maintain the stance my father always told me was the best way to keep my balance. Any time I stumble a bit I evaluate why it happened so I can work to avoid it.

It is not overtly noticeable but it is a connection across time that links my father’s life in the late 70s and early 80s to my childhood in the 90s to my adult life in the new millennium. Transitions. This one has reaffirmed or even created a shared experience and has not weakened the connection.

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